Stem cell debate: research or flush?
It seemed easier to know nothing about stem cell research. It’s a polarizing issue that has people arguing in circles about abstract but supremely important concepts like ethics, religion and the future of mankind.
At the heart of the debate are embryos destroyed by stem cell research, aligning it with abortion in some schools of thought.
A federal ban on abortion would trample on a tremendous personal choice from one point of view, but allowing it is to condone murder the other side says. And is it complicity to subsidize abortion with tax dollars?
Certainly there are very similar issues to grapple within the stem cell debate, but, unlike abortion, stem cell research goes far beyond defending choice. Proponents of the research support the possibility of a giant leap forward in medicine.
That leap raises another concern. What if this research ultimately leads to human cloning?
A supporter of stem cell research told me that it was good for mankind and so he was all for it.
Hitler’s Germany did a lot for the good of mankind, and it turned out to be not good at all. Maybe that’s an extreme comparison, but this is extreme science and not to be taken lightly. I wanted to hear something a little more specific.
An opponent of stem cell research said it was no different than abortion. Why? Well, the embryos could become people.
Could they? I wasn’t entirely sure.
Prompted by how little some people seemed to know despite having strong opinions on the issue, I recently abandoned my fear of running in rhetorical circles and decided to learn more about the stem-cell debate.
A very important fact is that stem cell research could be referring to adult or embryonic stem cells. The adult stem cells could be harvested from organs or umbilical cords.
No one lobbies Washington to stop the loss of cellular life that occurs as the result of a biopsy, and it’s safe to assume that society is similarly indifferent to the fate of adult stem cells.
The embryonic ones are different. They are the components of embryos, and those embryos could develop into a human being if given time and the right environment.
But all those slogans and images surrounding an aborted fetus don’t apply here. Stem cell research neither ‘stops a beating heart’ nor ravages a fetus.
Immature or embryonic stem cells are coveted by scientists because they have yet to differentiate into those cells that ultimately constitute the tissues of a human body. That next step results in a fetus.
Whether or not the tiny ball of cells has a soul can still be debated, but it does not have a heartbeat or nervous system. In fact, it has nothing but copies of the same generic cells. Will it become a human life? Often times, yes.
And in thousands of specific instances, no.
I’m referring to the tens of thousands of frozen embryos tossed down the drain at fertility clinics every year. They are a wild card in the embryonic stem cell debate.
While abortion and stem cell research found their way into the campaigns of both the president and his opponent last year, neither said anything about whether fertility clinics should be shut down or whether they should instead be supported by federal dollars.
Many couples once thought incapable of having children become parents with the help of invitro fertilization. Again, no one lobbies Washington on behalf of those embryos the couples don’t use.
That’s not to say that there aren’t individuals who are just as uncomfortable with embryos being wasted as they are with them being researched. Those embryos wasted at fertility clinics are still part of a path leading to childbirth, however, and that provides justification for some who might not otherwise support the process.
What if the surplus embryos were instead researched?
That becomes the question.
All the ‘What’s next?’ arguments about cloning and embryo farms are not part of the question. What’s next is that hopefully research on stem cells from whatever source yield cures to a host of maladies, and ideas like human cloning, which have incurred international disdain, should be dealt with as separate issues because that is what they are.
The issue isn’t as abstract as I thought it would be.
If we are going to continue to give the joys of parenthood at the cost of thousands of embryos each year, those embryos could be given an opportunity to contribute to modern medical miracles instead of simply being tossed out. Those embryos might one day even save the life of one among them that eventually went on to become a child.
If I had the choice to die for nothing or to die while granting mankind a cure for leukemia, diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and more, I would prefer the latter.
I would. And I’m a self-aware and fully-developed human being. The source of embryonic stem cells is a five-day-old embryo with zero cellular differentiation, a cluster of generic cells.
Medical advances resulting from stem cell research have already been used to save lives. It’s true.
Regardless of where one stands on the question of whether human life is human life at the point of conception or a fetus or a baby or even before all of those, we can probably all agree that it’s better to die for something or someone than to die for nothing at all.